The Pirates’ Francisco Cervelli, who’d reportedly given up catching after the latest in a series of debilitating concussions in late May, will begin a rehab assignment tomorrow with Double-A Altoona behind the plate, per mlb.com’s Adam Berry.
Cervelli, 33, walked back on his initial declaration a few days later, and has since expressed a fervid desire to return to his natural habitat. Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk noted Thursday that the longtime backstop would need final clearance from both the commissioner’s office and MLBPA, in addition to the Pirates’ own set of team doctors, to resume play behind the dish, though it appears such approval is mere formality at this point.
After a seven-year start to his career as backup for the Yankees, Cervelli came into his own in 2015 with the Pirates, slashing .295/.370/.401, good for 5.9 fWAR (a recently-inflated number buoyed by controversial pitch-framing statistics) in near-full-time play for the 98-win Buccos. An assortment of injuries has limited the Venezuelan to mostly part-time duty over the last four seasons, though he’s been wonderfully productive when healthy. An always-discerning eye (his walk percentage peaked at an exceptional 14.2% in 2016) has slipped a bit this year – strikeouts up, walks way down – and, coupled with bad luck on balls in play, has resulted in the 12-year-vet’s least productive major league season.
Still, Cervelli’s just a year removed from a 125 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR line in just 104 games, so it would greatly behoove the slumping Pirates to see what juice can still be squeezed from his once-ripe profile behind the dish. There’s been no word on the duration of the free-agent-to-be’s prospective rehab, or when Cervelli himself would like to return to the field, but it’s certainly a positive development regardless for a club who’s been hot on a silver linings trail after falling out of the race mid-July.